Migration from the Margins in Jewish Europe and Africa

On April 24, IES and GHI-West presented a dual lecture on the history of migration with tandem fellows Nick Underwood (PhD, University of Colorado, Boulder) and Florian Wagner (Assistant Professor of Contemporary History, University of Erfurt, Germany). Their research centers around Jewish return migration and repatriation tendencies in France and Ethiopia.

Underwood’s presentation centered on reconstructing Jewish France after the Holocaust. Based on his current book project titled “Plural Jewish Communities: Yiddish Culture and Jewish Migration in post-Holocaust France 1944–1965,” it considered the postwar reestablishment of Yiddish-speaking Jewish communities in France, discussing new markers of inclusion that helped to create a new, Franco-Yiddish postwar Jewish identity. As Underwood argued, offering examples from Yiddish cultural organizations and literary journals, this particular Jewish community sought to distance itself from normative French bourgeois culture, appealing instead to an alternative French leftist and internationalist Republicanism that advocated for cultural pluralism and cosmopolitanism.

Florian Wagner then turned to Jewish repatriation in Ethiopia. In the 1980s, Ethiopian Jews were the last Jewish diaspora group to publicly debate repatriation to Israel, as a result of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Ethiopia under the repressive Derg regime. Most refugees fled to camps in Southern Sudan, where, however, they faced food shortages and thus decided to organize their “repatriation”: the Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and the Tigrayans and Eritreans to their country of origin. Using sources from the Sudanese refugee camps and beyond, Wagner demonstrated how these self-organized repatriations were linked. He argued that, by promoting their migration and repatriation, these groups contributed to a new, non-Eurocentric humanitarian discourse that both used and contradicted international refugee law.

The presentations were followed by an engaging Q&A with 20 audience members, and a moderated discussion with Andrea Westermann, Research Fellow and Head of Office of the Pacific Regional Office of the GHI.